St Michael’s Fortress, Burgh by Sands

St Michael’s Church at Burgh by Sands, Cumberland, was once something of a fortress. Built on the site of the Roman fort Aballava, by Hadrian’s Wall, it was doubtless constructed from its thick stones. Like many churches, it has a tower; unlike many churches, it had a matching one at the other end, though it is now lowered. There are arrow loops protecting the entrance, and a ‘safe room’ in the tower into which fleeing villagers might find refuge from marauding Scots or thuggish Border Reivers. Those thick walls could absorb enemy missiles, and the thin slits might give back as good as they got. When invaders grew weary of battering those walls and moved on, the villagers could emerge to pick up the pieces and rebuild.

Although the reivers are no more and contemporary Scots prove less troublesome, there is still plenty in this world that would batter our faith and pillage our lives. Our health can soon be taken; our goods and chattels are easily lost; our popularity can evaporate in an instant, while friends and families can alter their priorities and cool their affections. The church is not a bulwark against such losses; often it is churches through which much of the damage is done. Rather it is Christ to whom we must flee; He is the City of Refuge inside which the blasts of life can be withstood. When all is failing, He alone stands firm, and all who trust in Him are never put to shame.

Other refuge have I none,

Hangs my helpless soul on Thee;

Leave, ah! leave me not alone,

Still support and comfort me.

All my trust on Thee is stayed,

All my help from Thee I bring;

Cover my defenceless head

With the shadow of Thy wing.

-Charles Wesley